Oh so wrong on Slater: Opinion

Footy fans are always quick to lay claim to the player they "always" knew was going to make it.

It's as if some kind of social currency is contingent upon us immediately identifying a prodigious talent the first time we cast eyes upon them.

What we don't like to so readily admit is the occasions where we got it wrong.

As in, completely, unbelievably, embarrassingly, head-shakingly wrong.

A reluctance to admit fault is especially the case for sports journalists, where being blindly stubborn and self-assured is half the profession.

I can clearly remember, however, my most lamentable assessment of ability.

The year was 2002 and the North Queensland Cowboys, who were down on their luck at the time, hosted the Brisbane Broncos at what is now 1300 Smiles Stadium.

I was working for the Townsville Bulletin and in the curtain-raiser match there was a young winger named Billy Slater.

All week leading into the game I'd been told to watch out for him by my sports editor, who was friends with Doug Slater, Billy's cousin and another media type who worked for a different branch of the same company.

The game came and went and, while he didn't do anything glaringly wrong, I didn't feel Billy was a standout either, despite others' insistence.

Instead, I devoted all my praise from the evening to a young debutant for the Broncos in the main game – Steve Irwin.

Irwin scored two tries in his first NRL appearance and looked set for an immense career.

History will show that Billy Slater will (one day) finish his NRL career with more than 300 NRL games, a string of accolades and one of the best try-scoring records of all-time.

Conversely, Steve Irwin finished his stint at the top level with 4 NRL games to his name.

It's still four games than most of us will ever achieve, but if you'd told me that night in March 2002 that's how their fortunes would pan out, I'd have thought you were bonkers.

There's a lot that can be gleaned from this mea culpa.

Like how first impressions aren't always correct. Like how scoring tries isn't everything in rugby league. Like how hard work and perseverance beats pure talent more times than not.

Every day is a chance to reinvent ourselves again. It's a chance to move incrementally closer to where we want to be. It's a chance to prove the doubters wrong or even our own innate self-doubt.

And more than anything, nobody is right 100 per cent of the time.

We all make a few boo-boos along the way.

So tell us – who is the player that completely defied your initial expectation or assessment of them? How did they surprise you?